Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Lampedusa in the Alps

  • Bolzano train station in northern Italy. About 15 people sleep every night on the station floor. During daytime, this figure can rise to several hundred people (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

"We came to Bolzano this morning," says Dawit*, an Eritrean whose ship was rescued by Italian marines two weeks ago. He was brought to Lampedusa and has since travelled through Sicily, Arezzo and Rome towards Germany, where his uncle lives.

But in Bolzano, Italian policemen blocked all doors of the IC train to Munich, asking black passengers for passports. White people were waved through without having to show either passports or tickets.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Dawit holding his train ticket. He paid €68 euro for it but can't get the money refunded despite the fact that he was denied boarding (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

In the run-up to a G7 summit in Elmau on 7 and 8 June, Germany has reintroduced border controls. Passports will be checked over a three week period, from 26 May to 15 June.

It justifies the measures by referring to the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen as well as the riots which marked the opening of ECB’s new headquarters in Frankfurt.

”Potential perpetrators of violence should be prevented from travelling to the venue in Germany, to help ensure that the summit passes without incident”, the German authorities said.

The measure means that the border is shut for migrants — not only in Germany, but already at Italy’s border with Austria.

Italian police officers stop migrants from boarding the train on stations along the route, starting in the Italian city of Trento.

Trilateral patrols (where Austrians and Germans participate as observers) are also present on board of the trains, checking passports and making sure that migrants get off the train by Brennero, 300 metres from the Austrian border.

Border controls inside the Schengen area

On-board controls have been more frequent for the last six months already, raising questions about whether this conforms with European rules, which state that border controls inside the Schengen area must neither be systematic or targeted.

"It’s a second tragedy to the migrants when they are forced off the trains," says Andrea Tremolada from Volontarius, a local organisation which coordinates help efforts provided by the local NGOs. "They don’t know why they are stopped or even that there is a border on their way to Germany."

Some people have never heard of Austria. The air on the platform is much cooler than anywhere before on their journey. They are not dressed for the mountain climate of Brennero, 1,300 metres high, where it snowed in the middle of May.

Meanwhile the local commune - consisting of 2000 inhabitants - wasn't prepared to handle the humanitarian situation so the provincial government asked civil society to step in.

Volunteers have turned an abandoned warehouse into a shelter for those migrants who ask for a temporary bed. They are also present at the station in Bolzano, providing healthcare services (as many migrants have fled through Libya where they were tortured), legal advice (including information on the EU asylum rules and the consequences of finger-printing) and helping with food, clothes and accommodation.

Failed EU policy?

While the comparison to Lampedusa - the small island off Italy where many migrants first land - may seem exaggerated, in both cases, it is the local population that has to deal with the consequences of a failed EU policy.

Under the 'Dublin Regulation' the first member state where a migrant enters the EU is obliged to process their asylum request - putting a heavy burden on countries such as Greece and Italy.

"According to our headcount, more than 5000 people were taken off the train in Brennero during the last six months. They would only stay one day and try to go with another train but as the border closed for migrants they are stranded," Andrea Tremolada.

"Yesterday we had over hundred people but now most seem to have left — we don’t know where, maybe some will be back tomorrow if they are discovered by Austrian authorities who have the right to send them back," he said late May.

About 15 people sleep every night on the station floor in Bolzano. During daytime, this figure can rise to several hundred people.

A week ago, a woman gave birth at the station. Every day the volunteers see a couple of small children passing. Local hotels let women and children stay for one night for free.

Although the local population has shown great solidarity with the stranded migrants — every day 10-15 people join the volunteer corps, and both individuals and business don clothes, food and other necessities — the station situation was used by the far-right to mobilise voters in the local elections in early May.

Matteo Salvini, an MEP for the far-right Lega Nord party in the European Parliament, said Bolzano was worse than Beirut. Lega Nord and Casa Pound (another far-right party) so far absent from the wealthy city, won four and one seats respectively.

Fingerprinting

Despite several contacts with Italian authorities - during the rescue outside Lampedusa, in reception centres in Sicily and Arezzo - Dawit says he was never fingerprinted.

"They told me that I can do it, if I want to stay in Italy, or go free."

Many other migrants present in Bolzano said they hadn't been fingerprinted either. As for those who had been, it is unclear whether the records were only used by Italian authorities to check criminal records or whether they were also introduced into the centralised Eurodac system.

If so, EU rules stipulate they cannot apply for asylum in another country than Italy, where they first arrived.

Italy is under pressure to respect European rules on fingerprinting.

The European Commission's new migration ideas, presented on 13 May, call for member states to comply with the Eurodac regulation.

A Commission staff document, dated 27 May and leaked by human rights NGO Statewatch, on implementation of the Eurodac regulation states that “If the data-subject still refuses to cooperate it is suggested that officials trained in the proportionate use of coercion may apply the minimum level of coercion required, while ensuring respect of the dignity and physical integrity of the data-subject.”

Fingerprinting hotspots

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates 170,000 people came by sea to Italy in 2014, four times more than in 2013.

Italy is seen as either unable or unwilling to fingerprint all the newly arrived. The European Commission is suggesting that the EU police and border agencies work together in ”hotspot” teams to fingerprint incoming migrants.

In exchange, 24,000 asylum seekers would be relocated from Italy to other countries over a period of two years. The figure is low compared to the total number of migrants arriving in Italy. An estimated 100,000 people travelled through the country to northern Europe only in 2014. Sweden takes the highest number of migrants per capita in the EU.

Meanwhile, the local newspaper, Alto Adige, reports that Bavaria's integration minister Emilia Müller, following a meeting with her colleagues from North and South Tyrol, said she hopes that when the border opens on 15 June, many refugees will have decided to apply for asylum in other countries.

*Not his real name

Interview

UN calls for EU 'courage' on immigration

The UN special envoy on migration has urged EU leaders to show more “courage” in the face of growing “nationalism” in Europe.

Merkel, Renzi agree basics of Africa plan

The German chancellor Angela Merkel backed an Italian plan on stemming migration flows from Africa, but disagrees on how it should be financed.

Chemnitz neo-Nazis pose questions for Germany

UN human rights commissioner urged EU leaders to condemn violence that recalled the 1930s, but the local situation in former East Germany does not apply to the whole country.

Former Malta opposition leader fears for his life

Simon Busuttil spent 10 years as an MEP before returning to Malta to lead the opposition. He now fears for his life amid probes into high-level corruption in Malta's government.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us